Hartley: Toyota "completely different" to anything I've driven
Ex-Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley says he faces a challenge getting used to a Toyota LMP1 car that is "completely different" to anything he's previously experienced ahead of the start of the new FIA World Endurance Championship season.
Hartley will make his first race outing for Toyota in this weekend's 4 Hours of Silverstone, partnering defending world champions Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel of the #8 TS050 Hybrid for the 2019/20 campaign, replacing Fernando Alonso.
The former Porsche LMP1 and Toro Rosso F1 racer acted as reserve driver for the Cologne-based outfit in this year's Le Mans 24 Hours, and since then has accrued further mileage in a private Paul Ricard test and the official Prologue test at Barcelona last month.
Hartley admits that there is a way to go before he feels totally comfortable in such a complex car, calling it "very different" to the Porsche 919 Hybrid he raced in 2014-17.
"I don’t know [if I'm] fully prepared, but I think Le Mans was important to start integrating with the team, seeing how everyone worked together, listening on the radios," he told Motorsport.com.
"Then I had two tests, which is probably not enough because the car is very complicated and there are a lot of things I have to get used to. Although it’s as complicated as any other car I’ve driven, it’s also completely different.
"I have to call on all my experience of driving other cars in the past; that experience is going to be important to getting used to it as quick as I can. I think at the end of the race I’ll know even more about how to extract everything from the car and how to manage the energy."
Asked if the championship-winning #8 crew's success last season created any additional pressure ahead of his Toyota race debut, Hartley replied: "Honestly, no. But obviously I want to do the best I can in any car I drive.
"Hopefully I can slot straight in – obviously I’ve some big shoes to fill with Fernando, but I’m really looking forward to it. Our car’s line-up has changed and I come in as a rookie, but I hope I can get up to speed quickly and help them carry on where they left off."
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 - Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Hartley is also wary of the increased threat from non-hybrid LMP1 teams, both of which ran the Toyotas close in pre-season Prologue testing at Barcelona, particularly with a new system of handicaps aimed at curtailing the Japanese manufacturer's dominance.
"I don’t think it’s fair to say Toyota will definitely be 1-2; the new EoT it really does swing the balance towards the privateers," said the Kiwi, who had a taste of privateer machinery when he joined the SMP Racing squad at the Sebring 1000 Miles in March.
"We saw it at the Prologue and now there’s been further weight here [an extra 14kg] and also success ballast now. I think it’s very optimistic to think we’re going to win every single race, because of how the rules are set out.
"I think it’s a good thing, we want to go wheel-to-wheel racing, we want it to be tough. I don’t think we’ll see Toyota dominance; I think it’ll be tricky."
Hartley admitted that maximising points at races where the TS050 Hybrids are most disadvantaged by the handicaps could prove pivotal in the title battle.
"When the car is loaded up with ballast, getting the most out of those moments is potentially key," he said. "Then it’s about details – you might not have the quickest car, but if you execute a perfect race you can jump other cars that have a pace advantage."
For PRIME users:
The WEC 4 Hours of Silverstone will be streamed live on Motorsport.tv. Click here for more coverage details.
Le Mans back to awarding double points in 2020
Silverstone WEC: Rebellion leads Toyota in FP1